B2 — 4. Emotional Wedge Pt. 1

They followed Bree and Serah down the halls and through a few doors until they reached evidence lock-up and storage; there were a few agents, but Rachel heard the majority of them clustered around other parts of the building, and more were flooding in with reports or just getting away from the chaos outside to check-in for duty.

Bree and Serah talked with the agent on guard and cleared the protocols to get in.  Entering the area through a chain-link fence, Bree and Serah guided them toward the left-back section of the area.

Bree smiled as Scarlet gasped; in front of them were shelves of vacuum-sealed packages, dozens of clothes inside each.  “Last month, we got a tip about some drugs in a shipping unit; an opioid smuggling operation out of China. There were a lot of sealed fake designer clothes coming out of Hong Kong with the product lined inside.  It was pretty tedious, but we had to go through all of the bags to get them out.”

“Crazy,” Fiona whispered.

Maria just shrugged as she pulled down a bag.  “Heard something like that was happening.”

“Of course you did,” Scarlet giggled.

“It’s not that crazy,” Maria sighed.  “The Cubans do some messed-up crap to smuggle their products in.”

Serah and Bree grimaced but didn’t comment.

Stepping forward, Rachel glanced around the space.  “So, we can look through all of these and just pick whatever we like?”

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Folding her arms, Serah nodded.  “We’ll need to check them out of course.  We’ll take the bags with us so we can get the label of the package you took the items from and mark them.  You won’t need to return them.”

“Seriously?”  Fiona asked. “I’ve always wondered what happens to the stuff the police confiscated.  Do you guys just store them?”

 Maria moved a few bags to a long foldable table, examining them through the plastic with a short huff.  “They hustle it, what else? Auctions, right?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call that hustling it,” Bree muttered, “but yes, Asset Forfeiture; if items meet specific guidelines, then it’s auctioned off.”

They all fell silent, dropping the subject to look through the products; Serah reminded them not to mix the clothes from the other bags and keep track of where they got the items.

Scarlet was ecstatic to find a dark blue Chinese Cheongsam traditional wedding gown with gold oriental designs that she said fit her perfectly as she examined the tag; it would play around her curves and dropped to her upper thighs, blue lace extending past that point to touch the floor.

“If I get short blue heels, then it’ll be perfect!”

Rachel chuckled at her enthusiasm.  She really likes to dress up.

Maria studied Scarlet as she held it up to her shoulders.  “For real? You’re gonna wear that? Can you even move in that thing, and seriously, heels?”

“I think you’ll look stunning,” Fiona said.  She sat on a table, sorting through a bunch of Barbie clothes Bree had found in another section.  “Look, Scarlet,” she held up a red Qipao dress with black trim. “We should follow the same theme!”

“Yeah,” Scarlet beamed.  “That’ll look really cute on you.”

“You really think so?  The last Barbie clothes I tried were kind of itchy,” she mumbled.

Rachel giggled, looking through a bag of Chinese sporting goods.  “Well, to be fair, they weren’t designed to actually be worn by people.”

Maria opened another sporting goods container; pulling a few out, she shook her head with a soft smile.  “I guess you do like that skirt and jacket though; the girly-girl Vampire.”

“Hey,” Scarlet huffed, blue eyes glaring at her.  “I am a girl, and so are you; you really did look beautiful in that Sailor outfit, and—what other time will I get to wear a wedding gown,” she whispered, causing the three of them to stiffen.

I didn’t connect that … Scarlet’s still depressed.  It’s not like marriage is out of the question though…

Bree and Serah looked between them with bewildered expressions.

“What’s going on?”  Bree asked. “I thought you guys were having fun?”

“No—no, you’re right,” Scarlet forced a giggle, folding the gown carefully.  “Where are the shoes?”

“This way,” Serah said, lips pursed in a manner that told Rachel she was convinced they’d missed something.

Our advanced hearing really can make a difference if utilized properly.

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“Gah,” Maria growled, pulling everyone’s eyes, and making Serah and Scarlet pause.  “What’s up with China and their designer sports clothes? I mean, at least they have sports bras, but what’s up with these things?  Are they even meant to work out with? The support’s…” She cut off with a long yawn.

Rachel nodded.  “I’m with you,” she sighed.  “Our current clothes are designed for hard workouts and look at how mine turned out.  These really don’t look that well made.”

“Well,” Bree scratched her neck, frowning as she glanced between a few of the shorts they were looking at.  “These are just replicas; not the real thing.”

Scarlet and Serah continued to the back without comment, but Scarlet pursed her lips, glancing back at Rachel.

Rachel followed their exit until the shelves obscured them.  Scarlet’s probably worried I’m looking for good material in case we need to fight, but it’s expected; we don’t know how the government will play this.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Fiona sighed.  “You’re worried about fabric quality while I’m here rocking thin Barbie outfits.”

Smiling at Fiona, Rachel moved to look between a few of her options.  “You’re right; we should be thankful to the FBI for providing us time to catch our breaths.”

Bree let go of a low hum.  “You’re not prisoners.”

“We just can’t leave,” Maria smirked, lifting an eyebrow at her.  “Same crap.”

Pulling at her dress shirt to relieve tension, Bree sighed, leaning against a support pillar; she glanced between the shelves before her vision fell to the concrete floor.  “You’re not prisoners, though.”

Rachel didn’t comment, looking for more clothes that might fit Fiona.  Letting her stew on the thought could bring some more sympathy and help conflict her opinion on our situation.

“Whatever,” Maria grunted, pulling out some black denim shorts after checking the size and began looking over shirts.  “What’s with Chinese shirts and … wait, I guess Asians are pretty small. How am I supposed to fit into some of these things?  I’d freaking suffocate!”

Fiona shot a glare up at her.  “Seriously? Flip! Some of us lost our chests in The Oscillation … what are your measurements anyways?”

Maria huffed.  “Well, dang … I didn’t look like this before The Oscillation either; it’s not like I care, but when I was checking bras I felt most comfortable in 34D.”

“Like it’s nothing,” Fiona grumbled, turning back to some clothes Rachel picked out.  “Here I am like a double-A…”

Maria’s body changed, just like mine.  It’s not like it reflects our increased strength though; I’ve lost a ton of muscle, yet I’m stronger than I ever could get through training.  I’m more flexible than I was before … everything has improved. My skin’s as smooth as a baby’s butt, and my curves are tight, but not overbearing.  I have the figure of a fighter without the hard muscles … it’s so strange.

Their attention moved to Bree as she hummed, scrutinizing Maria.  “I’d say she’s … probably around one-hundred, sixty-six, and one-hundred.  Freaking, Kim Kardashian curves.”

“What,” Maria’s eyes narrowed, “you a human measuring tape or something?  Trying to start beef? I don’t give a crap about my looks, but…” Her eyes wandered before a grin spread across her lips  “Wait, you got any George Bush down in this bitch?”

“George Bush?”  Rachel, Fiona, and Bree’s faces creased with bewilderment.

“The old president, George Bush?”  Rachel asked, scratching her forehead.  Does she think they just kidnapped a previous President?

“Freak, really?”  Maria leaned back against the table they were using.  “The Presidential crap.” When no one answered, she shook her head, picking between her teeth as she sighed.  “Kush … dang; the premium stuff.”

“Never heard it called that, but yeah,” Bree paused.  “Wait, freak—no…”

Maria’s grin broadened.  “Freaking liar!”

“It’s illegal without a medical…”

“Got one,” Maria folded her arms.

Growling, Bree massaged her neck.  “Then you can buy it from the shop.”

Maria popped her tongue.  “Stingy freaking…” She muttered, glaring down at a few shirt options

Rachel chuckled, trying to break the atmosphere.  “Maria, try that white shirt by your hand.”

“Huh?”  She picked it up; it had a strip of blue, red, and pink flowers embroidered across the front, but seemed like it had enough room for Maria’s chest in a sports bra.  “Guess this works,” she muttered.

“What about you Fiona,” Rachel asked, catching Bree glaring in Maria’s direction.

“I think I’ll go with the first one I picked out; I think it’ll fit me really nice and I’ll match Scarlet.”  She smiled at the Qipao dress in her hands.

“Wonderful, I’ll go with…”  She paused as a conversation caught her attention.  Dang-it … crap … we’ll get a lot of negative attention once this gets out.  I need to get ahead of this, but we aren’t equipped to handle it yet. Maria might be able to fix this if she can get some energy back.  I’ll need to spin this the right way though.

“With what?”  Fiona asked, looking up at her.

Licking her lips, Rachel took a deep breath before turning to Maria, tone concerned.  “Hey … we have a problem.”

Bree’s muscles tightened at the word and Rachel’s tone.  “Problem? What problem?”

Maria clicked her tongue, sighing as she leaned back, fingers gripping her scalp.  “Huh … sup?” Maria questioned, fingers moving down to scratch her neck.

Breathing through her teeth, Rachel looked down at Fiona.  “I wasn’t listening to some of your fights, Fiona. What can you tell me about a couple of women trapped in ice?”

Fiona’s hands shot to her lips.  “Oh … umm, well … Relica brainwashed two teenagers, a boy and a girl, and a few women.  She—she made them commit suicide and stab themselves when we came in. I—we kind of panicked—me and Scarlet, and I was—I was still addled … really confused after eating all that sugar.”

“Take your time,” Rachel said as she watched Fiona play with her shirt front, avoiding eye contact.  Bree walked over, listening with her arms crossed, expression serious.

Nodding, she took a deep breath.  “Scarlet was really, really sad and frustrated.  I thought I might be able to freeze them—they were bleeding out; I wanted to save them.  I made a ball of water and—and I thought if I froze them inside it, then we could buy time.”

She looked up at her with pleading eyes, wide with worry.  “Did you hear something bad; did I mess up again?”

Rachel paused for a moment, thinking about how to respond.  “Well—it isn’t your fault; you didn’t know.”

“What?”  Fiona pressed, long ears drooping slightly.

“Freezing,” Rachel paused, letting Fiona’s petrified expression hit Bree.  “If you freeze someone in ice—ice expands; if they unthaw them, then they’ll be dead, crushed.”

“No…” Fiona whispered, tight fists pressed against her chest.  “Is there—there’s nothing we can do?”

Maria yawned, shifting against the table to look down at the floor.  “Freak, that sucks—I could try to heal them? The ice will keep them alive, right?  They’ll just die really fast if they warm it up?”

Bree listened carefully, vision sliding between them.

“Maybe,” Rachel whispered.  “If Fiona’s freezing spell froze the entire body fast enough.”

“It’s worth a shot, though, right?”  Fiona pleaded.

“It is,” Bree said.  “If you think you can save them.”

Rachel nodded.  “We shouldn’t get our hopes up though … sorry, Fiona, I just don’t want you to be hurt if this doesn’t work.  You tried everything you could to save them, right?”

“I tried,” Fiona mumbled.  “I just keep messing up though…”

“Bullcrap,” Maria grunted, making the three of them lock-up and stare at her.

Maria, why are you saying bullcrap?  That sounded genuine to me, and Fiona did try to save them.

“I haven’t seen you mess up, but you believe it.  That’s bullcrap.”

Rachel’s muscles eased with Bree’s, but Fiona looked away with guilt.

“If I didn’t use water … would it have been better?”

Pursing her lips, Rachel pulled her hair back over her shoulders, playing with a lock; messing with Fiona’s emotions was getting harder as the conversation continued, even though it was meant to soften Bree up.  I can’t keep doing this … friends don’t do this to each other.  Another honor thing? Why am I obsessed with honor? Lunar Pride … a Racial Passive.

I really need to sit down and map all of this out.  So, I have a code of honor that I must follow; respect where respect is deserved, but at least there’s a limit to it with my opponent’s honor.

That’s why I had to give Conner my name and why some things bother me, yet others don’t.  Fiona is someone worth respecting, and manipulating her emotions is hurting her; it’s not honorable, but I feel like it’s necessary … compounding the issue.

I don’t feel the same toward Bree because I don’t see her as a companion … what a strange concept to think about.  Companion … friends … I actually think of them like that. I don’t give a crap about anyone else, but my family … companions … that’s where my focus is.

If someone is admirable, then I can return that to a certain degree, but if they cross me or those close to me … I’ve changed a lot.  At least it’s not your average code of conduct; it’s not like I’m life bound by it, but it does leave a bitter taste in my mouth. One thing’s for sure; we need to get ahead of this, and people love a winner.

Her chest burned as she smiled, scratching her brow.  “Maria’s right, Fiona. You did everything you could; now let’s leave it to Maria to do her thing, but we’ll need to buy time for her to recover.”  

Maria’s cheeks bunched to the side as she grabbed her left shoulder, looking down at the pile of clothes beside her.  A soft hum rumbled in her throat.

Rachel turned to Bree, her features serious.  “Bree, if you could contact the Military Forward Outpost that’s set up at the American Airline Arena.  Tell them that we think that we can save the people trapped in the ice and to prepare a means to transport them here.”

Looking at Maria, she pursed her lips.  “Maria…”

“What?”  She asked, releasing her shoulder.  “I can do it when the sun rises; piece of cake.”

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